Cocos (Keeling) Islands facts for kids

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Territory of the
Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Wilayah Pulau Cocos (Keeling)  (Malay)
Flag
Motto: Maju Pulau Kita  (Malay)
"Onward our island"
Status External Territory
Capital West Island
Largest village Bantam (Home Island)
Official languages None
Mother languages Malay, English
Demonym
  • Cocossian
  • Cocos Islandian
Sovereign state Australia
Government Federal constitutional monarchy
 -  Monarch Elizabeth II
 -  Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia
Sir Peter Cosgrove
 -  Administrator Barry Haase
 -  Shire President Aindil Minkom
Territory of Australia
 -  Annexed by the
British Empire

1857 
 -  Transferred to
Australian control

1955 
Area
 -  Total 14 km2
5.3 sq mi
 -  Water (%) 0
Population
 -  July 2014 estimate 596 (237)
 -  Density 43/km2 (n/a)
112/sq mi
Currency Australian dollar (AUD)
Time zone CCT (UTC+06:30)
Calling code 61 891
Internet TLD .cc
a. English does not have de jure status in Cocos (Keeling) Island and in Australia, but it is the de facto language of communication in government.

The Territory of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, also called Cocos Islands (/ˈkkəs/) and Keeling Islands, is a territory of Australia, located in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Christmas Island and approximately midway between Australia and Sri Lanka.

The territory consists of two atolls and 27 coral islands, of which two, West Island and Home Island, are inhabited with a total population of approximately 600.

Name

The islands have been called the Cocos Islands (from 1622), the Keeling Islands (from 1703), the Cocos–Keeling Islands (since James Horsburgh in 1805) and the Keeling–Cocos Islands (19th century). Cocos refers to the abundant coconut trees, while Keeling is William Keeling, reputedly the first European to sight the islands, in 1609. John Clunies-Ross, who sailed there in the Borneo in 1825, called the group the Borneo Coral Isles, restricting Keeling to North Keeling, and calling South Keeling "the Cocos properly so called". The form Cocos (Keeling) Islands, attested from 1916, was made official by the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955.

Geography

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands consist of two flat, low-lying coral atolls with an area of 14.2 square kilometres (5.5 sq mi), 26 kilometres (16 mi) of coastline, a highest elevation of 5 metres (16 ft) and thickly covered with coconut palms and other vegetation. The climate is pleasant, moderated by the southeast trade winds for about nine months of the year and with moderate rainfall. Tropical cyclones may occur in the early months of the year.

North Keeling Island is an atoll consisting of just one C-shaped island, a nearly closed atoll ring with a small opening into the lagoon, about 50 metres (160 ft) wide, on the east side. The island measures 1.1 square kilometres (270 acres) in land area and is uninhabited. The lagoon is about 0.5 square kilometres (120 acres). North Keeling Island and the surrounding sea to 1.5 km (0.93 mi) from shore form the Pulu Keeling National Park, established on 12 December 1995. It is home to the only surviving population of the endemic, and endangered, Cocos Buff-banded Rail.

South Keeling Islands is an atoll consisting of 24 individual islets forming an incomplete atoll ring, with a total land area of 13.1 square kilometres (5.1 sq mi). Only Home Island and West Island are populated. The Cocos Malays maintain weekend shacks, referred to as pondoks, on most of the larger islands.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands-CIA WFB Map
Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
Cocos Islands 1889
1889 map of South Keeling Islands.
Cocos(keeling) 76
1976 map of South Keeling Islands.
Islets (clockwise from north)
Islet
(Malay name)
English name Area
(km²)
1 Pulau Luar Horsburgh Island 1.04
2 Pulau Tikus Direction Island 0.34
3 Pulau Pasir Workhouse Island <0.01
4 Pulau Beras Prison Island 0.02
5 Pulau Gangsa Closed sandbar, now part of Home Island <0.01
6 Pulau Selma Home Island 0.95
7 Pulau Ampang Kechil  Scaevola Islet <0.01
8 Pulau Ampang Canui Island 0.06
9 Pulau Wa-idas Ampang Minor 0.02
10 Pulau Blekok Goldwater Island 0.03
11 Pulau Kembang Thorn Island 0.04
12 Pulau Cheplok Gooseberry Island  <0.01
13 Pulau Pandan Misery Island 0.24
14 Pulau Siput Goat Island 0.10
15 Pulau Jambatan Middle Mission Isle <0.01
16 Pulau Labu South Goat Island 0.04
17 Pulau Atas South Island 3.63
18 Pulau Kelapa Satu North Goat Island 0.02
19 Pulau Blan East Cay 0.03
20 Pulau Blan Madar Burial Island 0.03
21 Pulau Maria West Cay 0.01
22 Pulau Kambling Keelingham Horn Island <0.01
23 Pulau Panjang West Island 6.23
24 Pulau Wak Bangka Turtle Island 0.22

There are no rivers or lakes on either atoll. Fresh water resources are limited to water lenses on the larger islands, underground accumulations of rainwater lying above the seawater. These lenses are accessed through shallow bores or wells.

Flora and fauna

Climate

Cocos (Keeling) Islands experiences tropical monsoon climate (Am) according to Köppen climate classification as the archipelago lies approximately in the midway between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. The archipelago has two distinct precipitation totals between the wet season and the dry season. The wettest month is April with precipitation total 250.0 millimetres (9.84 in), while the driest month is October with precipitation total 50.9 millimetres (2.00 in). The temperature varies a little as its location away from the Equator. The hottest month is March with average high temperature 29.8 °C (85.6 °F), while the coolest month is August with average low temperature 23.6 °C (74.5 °F).

Demographics

In 2010, the population of the islands is estimated at just over 600. The population on the two inhabited islands generally is split between the ethnic Europeans on West Island (estimated population 100) and the ethnic Malays on Home Island (estimated population 500). A Cocos dialect of Malay and English are the main languages spoken, and 80% of Cocos Islanders are Sunni Muslim, the other 20% are of another religion.

History

AMH-5134-NA Compass chart of the Kokos islands
Historic compass chart of the Cocos islands

In 1609, Captain William Keeling was the first European to see the islands, while serving in the East India Company, but they remained uninhabited until the 19th century.

In 1814, Scottish merchant seaman Captain John Clunies-Ross stopped briefly at the islands on a trip to India, nailing up a Union Jack and planning to return and settle on the islands with his family in the future.

Wealthy Englishman Alexander Hare had similar plans, and hired a captain – coincidentally, Clunies-Ross' brother – to bring him and a harem of 40 Malay women to the islands, where he hoped to establish his private residence. Hare had previously served as resident of Banjarmasin, a town in Borneo, and found that "he could not confine himself to the tame life that prosy civilisation affords".

Clunies-Ross returned two years later with his wife, children and mother-in-law, and found Hare already established on the island and living with a private harem. A feud grew between the two. Clunies-Ross' eight sailors .

After some time, Hare's women began deserting him, and instead finding themselves mates amongst Clunies-Ross' sailors. Disheartened, Hare left the island. He died in Bencoolen in 1834.

Clunies-Ross' workers were paid in a currency called the Cocos rupee, a currency John Clunies-Ross minted himself that could only be redeemed at the company store.

Chart of Cocos Keeling Islands
1840 chart of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands
WW1 Landing at Direction Island
A landing party from the German Navy cruiser Emden leaves Cocos (Keeling) Islands via this jetty on Direction Island.

On 1 April 1836, HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy arrived to take soundings to establish the profile of the atoll as part of the survey expedition of the Beagle. To the naturalist Charles Darwin, aboard the ship, the results supported a theory he had developed of how atolls formed, which he later published as The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs. He studied the natural history of the islands and collected specimens. Darwin's assistant Syms Covington noted that "an Englishman [he was in fact Scottish] and HIS family, with about sixty or seventy mulattos from the Cape of Good Hope, live on one of the islands. Captain Ross, the governor, is now absent at the Cape."

Annexation by the British Empire

The islands were annexed by the British Empire in 1857. This annexation was carried out by Captain Stephen Grenville Fremantle in command of HMS Juno. Fremantle claimed the islands for the British Empire and appointed Ross II as Superintendent. In 1878, by Letters Patent, the Governor of Ceylon was made Governor of the islands, and, by further Letters Patent in 1886, responsibility for the islands was transferred to the Governor of the Straits Settlement to exercise his functions as "Governor of Cocos Islands". The islands were made part of the Straits Settlement under an Order in Council of 20 May 1903. Meanwhile, in 1886 Queen Victoria had, by indenture, granted the islands in perpetuity to John Clunies-Ross. The head of the family enjoyed semi-official status as Resident Magistrate and Government representative.

In 1901 a telegraph cable station was established on Direction Island. Undersea cables went to Rodrigues, Mauritius, Batavia, Java and Fremantle, Western Australia. In 1910 a wireless station was established to communicate with passing ships. The cable station ceased operation in 1966.

World War I

On the morning of 9 November 1914, the islands became the site of the Battle of Cocos, one of the first naval battles of World War I. A landing party from the German cruiser SMS Emden captured and disabled the wireless and cable communications station on Direction Island, but not before the station was able to transmit a distress call. An Allied troop convoy was passing nearby, and the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney was detached from the convoy escort to investigate.

Sydney spotted the island and Emden at 09:15, with both ships preparing for combat. At 11:20, the heavily damaged Emden beached herself on North Keeling Island. The Australian warship broke to pursue Emden's supporting collier, which scuttled herself, then returned to North Keeling Island at 16:00. At this point, Emden's battle ensign was still flying: usually a sign that a ship intends to continue fighting. After no response to instructions to lower the ensign, two salvoes were shot into the beached cruiser, after which the Germans lowered the flag and raised a white sheet. Sydney had orders to ascertain the status of the transmission station, but returned the next day to provide medical assistance to the Germans.

134 personnel aboard Emden were killed, and 69 were wounded, compared to 4 killed and 16 wounded aboard Sydney. The German survivors were taken aboard the Australian cruiser, which caught up to the troop convoy in Colombo on 15 November, then transported to Malta and handed over the prisoners to the British Army. An additional 50 German personnel from the shore party, unable to be recovered before Sydney arrived, commandeered a schooner and escaped from Direction Island, eventually arriving in Constantinople. Emden was the last active Central Powers warship in the Indian or Pacific Ocean, which meant troopships from Australia and New Zealand could sail without naval escort, and Allied ships could be deployed elsewhere.

World War II

During World War II, the cable station was once again a vital link. The Cocos were valuable for direction finding by the Y service, the worldwide intelligence system used during the war.

Allied planners noted that the islands might be seized as an airfield for German planes and as a base for commerce raiders operating in the Indian Ocean. Following Japan's entry into the war, Japanese forces occupied neighbouring islands. To avoid drawing their attention to the Cocos cable station and its islands' garrison, the seaplane anchorage between Direction and Horsburgh islands was not used. Radio transmitters were also kept silent, except in emergencies.

After the Fall of Singapore in 1942, the islands were administered from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and West and Direction Islands were placed under Allied military administration. The islands' garrison initially consisted of a platoon from the British Army's King's African Rifles, located on Horsburgh Island, with two 6-inch (152.4 mm) guns to cover the anchorage. The local inhabitants all lived on Home Island. Despite the importance of the islands as a communication centre, the Japanese made no attempt either to raid or to occupy them and contented themselves with sending over a reconnaissance aircraft about once a month.

On the night of 8–9 May 1942, 15 members of the garrison, from the Ceylon Defence Force, mutinied under the leadership of Gratien Fernando. The mutineers were said to have been provoked by the attitude of their British officers and were also supposedly inspired by anti-imperialist beliefs. They attempted to take control of the gun battery on the islands. The Cocos Islands Mutiny was crushed, but the mutineers killed one non-mutinous soldier and wounded one officer. Seven of the mutineers were sentenced to death at a trial that was later alleged to have been improperly conducted. Four of the sentences were commuted, but three men were executed, including Fernando. These were to be the only British Commonwealth soldiers executed for mutiny during the Second World War.

On 25 December 1942, the Japanese submarine I-166 bombarded the islands but caused no damage.

Later in the war, two airstrips were built, and three bomber squadrons were moved to the islands to conduct raids against Japanese targets in South East Asia and to provide support during the planned reinvasion of Malaya and reconquest of Singapore. The first aircraft to arrive were Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIIIs of No. 136 Squadron RAF. They included some Liberator bombers from No. 321 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF (members of exiled Dutch forces serving with the Royal Air Force), which were also stationed on the islands. When in July 1945 No. 99 and No. 356 RAF squadrons arrived on West Island, they brought with them a daily newspaper called Atoll which contained news of what was happening in the outside world. Run by airmen in their off-duty hours, it achieved fame when dropped by Liberator bombers on POW camps over the heads of the Japanese guards.

In 1946, the administration of the islands reverted to Singapore and it became part of the Colony of Singapore.

Transfer to Australia

On 23 November 1955, the islands were transferred from the United Kingdom to the Commonwealth of Australia. Immediately before the transfer the islands were part of the United Kingdom's Colony of Singapore, in accordance with the Straits Settlements (Repeal) Act, 1946 of the United Kingdom and the British Settlements Acts, 1887 and 1945, as applied by the Act of 1946. The legal steps for effecting the transfer were as follows:

  • The Commonwealth Parliament and the Government requested and consented to the enactment of a United Kingdom Act for the purpose.
  • The Cocos Islands Act, 1955, authorized Her Majesty, by Order in Council, to direct that the islands should cease to form part of the Colony of Singapore and be placed under the authority of the Commonwealth.
  • By the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act, 1955, the Parliament of the Commonwealth provided for the acceptance of the islands as a territory under the authority of the Commonwealth and for its government.
  • The Cocos Islands Order in Council, 1955, made under the United Kingdom Act of 1955, provided that upon the appointed day (23 November 1955) the islands should cease to form part of the Colony of Singapore and be placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The reason for this comparatively complex machinery was due to the terms of the Straits Settlement (Repeal) Act, 1946. According to Sir Kenneth Roberts-Wray "any other procedure would have been of doubtful validity". The separation involved three steps: separation from the Colony of Singapore; transfer by United Kingdom and acceptance by Australia.

H. J. Hull was appointed the first official representative (now administrator) of the new territory. He had been a lieutenant-commander in the Royal Australian Navy and was released for the purpose. Under Commonwealth Cabinet Decision 1573 of 9 September 1958, Hull's appointment was terminated and John William Stokes was appointed on secondment from the Northern Territory police. A media release at the end of October 1958 by the Minister for Territories, Hasluck, commended Hull's three years of service on Cocos.

Stokes served in the position from 31 October 1958 to 30 September 1960. His son's boyhood memories and photos of the Islands have been published. C. I. Buffett MBE from Norfolk Island succeeded him and served from 28 July 1960 to 30 June 1966, and later acted as Administrator back on Cocos and on Norfolk Island. In 1974, Ken Mullen wrote a small book about his time with wife and son from 1964 to 1966 working at the Cable Station on Direction Island.

In the 1970s, the Australian government's dissatisfaction with the Clunies-Ross feudal style of rule of the island increased. In 1978, Australia forced the family to sell the islands for the sum of A$6,250,000, using the threat of compulsory acquisition. By agreement, the family retained ownership of Oceania House, their home on the island. In 1983, the Australian government reneged on this agreement, and told John Clunies-Ross that he should leave the Cocos. The following year the High Court of Australia ruled that resumption of Oceania House was unlawful, but the Australian government ordered that no government business was to be granted to Clunies-Ross's shipping company, an action that contributed to his bankruptcy. John Clunies-Ross now lives in Perth, Western Australia. However, some members of the Clunies-Ross family still live on the Cocos.

Extensive preparations were undertaken by the government of Australia to prepare the Cocos Malays to vote in their referendum of self-determination. Discussions began in 1982, with an aim of holding the referendum, under United Nations supervision, in mid-1983. Under guidelines developed by the UN Decolonization Committee, residents were to be offered three choices: full independence, free association, or integration with Australia. The last option was preferred by both the islanders and the Australian government. A change in government in Canberra following the March 1983 Australian elections delayed the vote by one year. While the Home Island Council stated a preference for a traditional communal consensus "vote", the UN insisted on a secret ballot. The referendum was held on 6 April 1984, with all 261 eligible islanders participating, including the Clunies-Ross family: 229 voted for integration, 21 for Free Association, nine for independence, and two failed to indicate a preference. In recent years a series of disputes have occurred between the Muslim Coco Malay inhabitants and the non-Muslim population of the islands.[1]

Culture


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